Death of a Desktop: My Computer and I

It’s been a while since I built a computer. Quite a while, in fact. I built my desktop back in December 2011, a few days after getting my wisdom teeth taken out. As I recall, I built the computer specifically to play Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Minecraft, and Skyrim. My plucky little laptops just couldn’t handle it anymore. I burned through maybe three laptops in high school/early college; I needed something that was going to not shrivel up and die when I tried to make it show me neat moving pictures.

Here is a photo of baby Michael building his first desktop:

michael building his desktop 2011.jpg

note the puffy cheeks, glazed expression, and unkempt beard. that’s pretty much what i look like all the time.

A few weeks ago, my poor desktop finally started to show signs of age. I ran into the ever-frustrating Explorer Crash Loop. Windows Explorer opened, immediately crashed, restarted, crashed, etc. Look, there’s probably a way to fix that. I did a little cursory googlefu and ran chkdsk a billion times, but sometimes you just have to pull the plug. My wife pointed out that computer years are about 20 to 1 with human years. My desktop was nearly 5 years old (ok, 4 – I had to replace the mobo in 2012. Different story), which cranks out to a geriatric in its late 90s.

chkdsk.jpg

Woke up on October 13 and this is what I saw. RIP IN PIECE.

I bought myself a new WD Black 1TB HDD for storage and a Samsung 120GB SSD for booting. I also bought some Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 RAM, 16 GB worth. I’d been running a WD Blue 500GB HDD with 8 GB of sniper RAM. It was time to bring The UberComp, as I named it on the network, out of the stone age.

 

I spread out my parts on the office floor late the other night, in the middle of a spontaneous late-October Indian Summer. It was a solid 77 in the office, but I would not be deterred. Not everything went as planned. Somehow it never occurred to me that I might need an enclosure for my SSD. See, solid state drives are real tiny. Apparently. My big chunky hard drive tower was like the old pair of jeans in a Subway diet ad; the SSD just fell right through.

But like the raven in the fable about the raven who puts a bunch of rocks in a jar or something, I knew exactly how to waste an enormous amount of time on a stupid idea. In the post-wisdom-tooth folly of my youth, I had installed not one, not two, but THREE CD drives on the front of my computer. Mostly because I liked the patchworky frankenstein look it gave me. Only one was actually plugged in; the other two were from machines as old as I am. Purely for show. Great, I thought, sitting on the floor in gym shorts and an old t-shirt, I’ll just rip one apart and mount the SSD inside. This way I could keep my old facade with the terrible trio of CD drives and still have a safe place to screw the SSD into position.

With an Ahabbian will I tore at the bottom optical drive. Oh, at first I played nice. I used a screwdriver the way screwdriver manufacturers intend. But good gravy, that CD drive was just not coming apart. Some little plastic dingle was stuck in a metal dongle. I abandoned finesse. I attempted to pry the guts out of the metal enclosure.  As if to punish me for my hubris, the metal enclosure snapped shut on my finger, leaving a little cut above my knuckle. I yelped and retreated to the bathroom to (metaphorically) lick my wound. When I returned, it was with a vengeance. Now I was using a screwdriver the way GOD ALMIGHTY intended: to pry CD drives apart in a spray of little plastic shards, which flew like spittle from a boxer’s mouth when he takes the ultimate haymaker.

Yes, I ripped that bad mammerjammer apart and I lived to tell the tale. I screwed the SSD onto the now-gutted metal enclosure. Like an occult alchemist tearing out the heart of a bear and replacing it with a lightbulb. But whaddyaknow – in my mighty rending, I had accidentally dented the faceplate of the drive. The whole point was that this way I would have a nice little CD faceplate on the case, just with an SSD hidden behind it. Was all lost, here at the end of all things?

Nope. Like life itself, I found a way:computer labeled.jpg

Yes indeed, this is a picture of the computer on which I just wrote this blog post. I would’ve used duct tape, but somehow (horror of horrors!) we didn’t have any in the house. Also, please note that my other two CD drives are still very much there, although as before only one of them functions (hint: it’s not the Memorex one).

That little blue USB poking out at the top is my copy of Windows 10, which yes I purchased. It only set me back twenty million dollars.

I know what you’re thinking: but Michael, what about the RAM? Well, calm down. I have some bad news. Remember how I said I got some sweet Corsair Vengeance DDR4 RAM? My motherboard only has DDR3 slots. That means DDR4 RAM just don’t fit. I am returning the DDR4 RAM so I can finally, finally have over 10 GB of RAM in my machine.

In the end, it only took about 90 minutes to take it all apart, rip up my hands, grapple with my feeble-minded mistakes, and then install Windows 10. By the time I went to bed, I had a fresh, clean desktop computer, booting from an SSD and storing on the HDD.

There’s more work to be done, of course; gotta get that new RAM, and maybe in the next few months I’ll upgrade the graphics card (currently still running the AMD Radeon 6800 series, which was new in October of 2010. If my computer was in its 90s, the card architecture is in its 100s now). I have to say, it felt like it was time. The old incarnation of this desktop saw me through five transformative years.When I cleaned off the hard drive, I found all the bits I’d left – stories, poems, essays, novels, pictures, skype-screenshots, videos, music; every piece a tile in a digital mosaic that captures partial snapshot of Me.

I didn’t copy all those files over. Oh, I backed them up, don’t worry, but there’s something so clean about a fresh start. In five more years, I’ll get a chance to look back at late October, 2016, and see where this new chapter started.

back-2-normal

The new computer, up and running.

 

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